Empty grocery store shelves — and not just the ones sans toilet paper — present a big, albeit complicated, opportunity for Beneficial Blends, an organic food co-packer and manufacturer. The Tampa-based, 60-employee firm, which did nearly $20 million in sales last year, specializes in edible oils and ghee (highly-clarified butter)-related products.
On the one hand, the firm’s roster of grocery store clients, including Publix and a host of other chains nationwide, are desperate for new products, Beneficial Blends Founder and CEO Erin Meagher says. And they’ve been calling Beneficial Blends frantically for a few weeks, looking for large and rushed orders, both in the company’s branded Kelapo line and its private labels. Asked what lines or varieties are selling best, Meagher says “everything.”
“Retailers are basically wiping out our warehouse,” Meagher adds. One large customer asked Beneficial Blends if it could sell extra goods to them, at the expense of stiffing other customers — a request it politely declined. Other clients, Meagher says, “are sending us pictures of their empty shelves and asking us to get them anything” to restock them.
Sales, so far, are up at least 10% year-over-year, but when March is fully accounted for, Meagher expects the jump to be much bigger.
But the surge, Meagher says, is also a “double-edged sword,” in that it strains the company’s logistics, vendors and supply chains, which are global. That makes order fulfillment more of a challenge. Another concern: Although the next three or four months, Meagher projects, will be gangbusters, the company could be looking at a slump when things normalize. “There will be a pop,” she says.
The company hasn’t added staff yet to handle the increase. It sent most of its office employees to work from home and has kept about 25 employees at the facility to work on operations and fulfillment. Those employees are cross-trained, and Meagher says everyone, including her, are pitching in. “Everyone is one the front lines of pushing product out the door,” Meagher says.
Be it supply chains or stressed employees, Meagher realizes being slammed with business is a “good problem,” given the decimation the region has already seen in hotels and restaurants. “I’m glad we are still around to fight for ourselves,” says Meagher, a one-time high school teacher who founded the business in 2009. “And we will keep on fighting.”